I just wrote a blog about this exact same situation, and now, within a week, there are at least two more heavily reported incidents. Keep in mind that those are “heavily reported” incidents. There is no way of knowing how many incidents never made national news, how many were never discovered, and how many were brushed under the carpet.
Now, I began outlining this blog before I read about the second incident, but much of what I want to say applies to both situations.
In the first situation, a teacher’s aide broke a student’s arm.
In the second situation, a teacher shoved a student. (The teacher denies it, saying that she might have accidentally brushed the student with her elbow, but the video apparently shows her shoving him, and she also then fought with another teacher about the phone she had confiscated from the student.)
That said –
Reasonable people know not to break someone’s arm. It isn’t something that we do that surprising. It takes force. It takes effort.
To work in a special education setting, you must go through training and certification. Yes, the teacher receives far more training, but the aides must also get a certificate.
If someone “accidentally” broke a student’s arm in a general education class, it would be considered unbelievable. Because it doesn’t seem to happen. If a teacher can avoid breaking a student’s arm in a general education classroom, why can’t a teacher’s aide avoid breaking a student’s arm in a self-contained special education classroom?
Many student in self-contained classrooms are there because of behavior issues and other problems that would make it difficult for them to learn in another setting. But the people working with them in the classroom know who their students will be. They know that the students will need extra help and redirection. The people who work in those classrooms choose to work in those classrooms. And, again, they are certified to do so.
Also, keep in mind that it’s not like only special education students refuse to listen or cause trouble in their classrooms. I think anyone who has been in any middle school, junior high, or high school can attest to the idea that there is never a class that is perfect. In these classroom settings, would you still find a way to excuse it? Would you say, “well, it was obviously an accident” or “this is a good chance to provide more education [for the person who committed the crime]?”
While I can provide many reasons why the students may have failed to comply with what their teachers and teacher’s aides may have requested, I have no included them in this blog because *none* of those reasons are an excuse that can make their actions acceptable.
It is a crime, and it needs to be treated as one.
Imagine, if you will, a kindergarten teacher and your five-year-old son in a classroom.
Imagine, if you will, your five-year-old son is doing what five-year-old boys do and is touching himself through his clothes.
Imagine, if you will, that his teacher “thumped” him on his head, hard enough for him to cry, hard enough for a teacher’s assistant in the room to report the “thump,” and hard enough for the police to issue a citation, charging the teacher with assault by offensive contact.
Now, being charged with the crime does not make her guilty of the crime, but witness testimony is pretty strong, and according to the witness, the teacher thumped the student “because she didn’t like what he was doing.”
If the teacher had paid her fine, it would be admitting guilt, and she’d lose her teaching license, so she went to court over it.
And the jury decided it was cool. The jury’s job was to decide whether the physical contact was justified under Texas law, which lets teachers basically do whatever they need to in order to maintain discipline.
This teacher can now continue teaching, can continue “thumping” students, and can continue to mete out justice against her students however she thinks she needs to (or apparently wants to).
Now here’s the thing: the five-year-old child had a disability.
Do you think that played at all into the jury’s decision? Because I sure as hell do.
We know from government data that suspension and expulsion rates for students with disabilities are about two times higher than their non-disabled peers.
Our kids needs to be in school. They shouldn’t be forced out through “discipline” that is not appropriate and that would not be used on their non-disabled peers. They should not be hit by teachers. They should not be punished at different rates.
This is only one instance at one school, but I doubt it’s an isolated incident. It’s just one of the few that is reported.
How many times did a teacher’s assistant keep quiet? How many times did another teacher “thump” a student? How many times did the issue not get pressed or get dismissed within the school system?
The jury sent a clear message – kids with disabilities can be hit by their teachers, and it’s okay. If a child without a disability had done that in class, and if he had been hit by a teacher, you can be pretty sure that the teacher would have been found guilty.
Because there is no consequence for the teacher’s action, these issues will continue to be underreported and continue to happen.
Because there is no consequence for the teacher’s actions, other teachers may do the same.
Because there is no consequence for the teacher’s action, parents will be scared to send their children to schools.
Because there is no consequence for the teacher’s action, we need to make it known that this happened. That this isn’t acceptable. That there *should* be a consequence.
We need to make this news that is shared, news that is known by parents, news that causes outrage among not just parents, but educators and administrators at schools.
We can’t go back and change what happened, but we can work to make sure that the next jury that gets a case like this understands that these are not acceptable actions against any student and that just because a student has a disability doesn’t make them fair game for abuse.
Hitting a five-year-old student is wrong. Why do we even need to say this?
As Simon gets older and older, a problem has emerged into more and more of a problem: going to the bathroom in public.
When he was little, it was easy. Women are pretty accepting of kids coming into the women’s room.
When he got bigger, I kept bringing him in. Sure, he was a bit old to be considered a “kid,” but since he was with me, no one seemed to care.
It made me nervous, though. Sooner or later, I was sure, someone would try to get into it with me and tell me that I couldn’t bring him in.
Now he’s clearly a teenager, and not a young teen either. Bringing him into a women’s bathroom is the last resort. Instead, the best option is a family restroom, or a single person restroom, where I can stand outside and keep an ear – and eye – out.
Recently, I’ve gotten brave.
Since I don’t feel good about bringing him into women’s rooms, I’ve begun sending him into men’s rooms.
Then I stand around the entrance, nervous as hell, sometimes calling into the room after him, getting weird looks from the guys who are coming out.
I finally took it further – instead of standing outside the men’s room, waiting for him, calling to him, I would go into the women’s room and go to the bathroom while he was in the men’s room.
I pee as fast as I can, hoping I finish before he does and get out before he does. I wash my hands without drying them. If there is too long a line, I don’t go at all and instead just cross my legs until we get somewhere else or until we get home.
I always make it out before him, even if it means that I use antibacterial gel on my hands instead of washing them.
But then I got super brave.
Brave like someone rushing through traffic to save a toddler from an oncoming car hitting him while a hawk swooped down to try to pull him up and eat him and a hunter fired a gun at the hawk, but the hunter had super bad aim and the bullet was coming in way too low.
Okay, not that brave.
But pretty brave.
We were at a Target, and I really really really had to pee.
Simon didn’t have to go, and I knew that he’d been willing to go into the men’s bathroom and pee anyway, but then we’d leave the cart with all the paid-for groceries all alone, and I didn’t really want to do that. And Simon is 16. Maybe it was time to try something new.
“Hey, Simon,” I said, “can you do me a favor?”
“I want you to hold onto the handle of this cart, here,” I showed him where to put his hands, “and I’m going to go into the bathroom. I’ll be right out. You wait here, holding the cart. Is that okay?”
Here’s the thing: Simon saying yes doesn’t always mean yes. He says yes to almost as many things as he says no to, and the response often has nothing to do with the question as much as it does about the time of day, how tired he is, or how much attention he’s been paying. Or it might have something to do with what sounds best. I have no idea how he decides whether or not he says yes or no.
But he said yes.
And I had to pee.
He put his hands on the cart, standing where he couldn’t see into the women’s room, but as close as I could get him without having him look in.
The fear. The absolute fear. The oh my god, I am leaving him alone in a store fear.
Will he wander off?
Will he get upset?
Will a well-meaning person try to help him if he gets upset, leading to a police incident in the 90 seconds that it takes me to pee?
(Yes, those are all serious fears – while I don’t think a police officer could make it there that quickly, the fear that an officer could show up and there could be an incident that would lead to an injury or an arrest is completely legitimate.)
I rushed. I rushed so much. I avoided peeing on the seat (which proves that, no, you don’t have to pee on the seat you seat-peeing savages), and I washed my hands, drying them on my shirt because I wasn’t going to use the hot air blower.
I left the bathroom, fully expecting a partial meltdown in progress.
Simon is not a fan of not being able to see people that he wants to see.
At home, I can tell him half a dozen times that I’m bringing recycling out to the bin, and when I come back in, he’s crying and repeating that “Mom is taking out recycling” or if I go out for the mail, then I hear “Mom’s getting the mail.”
Whatever it is, he isn’t very happy about it.
Even going to the mall as a family, when Patrick takes Simon to the bathroom, if I take longer than them, I hear about it as I make it back to the waiting place. “Mom is in the bathroom! Mom is in the bathroom!”
This time, though, he was just standing there, still hanging onto the cart.
He wasn’t trying to look into the bathroom. He hadn’t left the cart. He wasn’t upset that I had gone into the bathroom.
He was…he was…he was fine!
Now, I know that this sounds like all I’m talking about is going to the bathroom, but it’s so much more than that.
He’s 16. He’s going into his sophomore year in high school, but he is eligible for (and will be taking part in) the 18+ program. He will stay in school, getting some extra help, socialization, job training, and lots of other good stuff until he’s 21.
Five years might sound like a long time, but anyone with a child can tell you that it’s not. It’s the blink of an eye.
At 16, Simon needs to be moving ahead with his life.
He needs to be able to do things on his own.
He needs to be able to let me do things on my own.
He needs to not always need someone to watch him.
He needs to be his own person.
He needs to be an adult.
So while standing alone with a shopping cart while I duck into a bathroom for two and a half minutes doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s the start of a lot.
Simon started getting a mustache when he was 12. It was cool, though, because the school district allows mustaches from junior high on. (I’m not sure why.)
Now he’s 15, and he’s starting to get a lot of chin whiskers. It isn’t cool, though, because the school district does not allow beards. (I’m not sure why of this either…)
He seems to be quite fond of his beard, though, because whenever we ask him about shaving it off, no matter how we phrase it, no matter how we introduce the idea, his response is always the same.
Apparently it’s not just his chin hair that’s started the no-ing in his life. It’s also the cafeteria food.
Simon is a grilled cheese connoisseur, and the school cafeteria does not meet his exacting standards when it comes to the proper presentation of grilled cheese.
Top: Unacceptable. Simon will say no and refuse to take it because there is cheese on top of the bread.
Bottom: Acceptable. The cheese is in its proper configuration and does not cross the plane of the bread.
At home – and restaurants – this doesn’t be a problem, mostly likely (we’re guessing) because there’s not a choice involved. At home, he helps make it himself, and at the restaurant, it’s served to him. No choice to reject it and get a different plate from the line.
Hopefully, going with the flow when there aren’t other options a good sign.
Hopefully, that means that if we present him with a razor (without an option), he’ll decide that there’s no choice there, either.
Hopefully, if that doesn’t work, his high school will be understanding.
And hopefully, if they aren’t, it will be easy enough to create our own religion that requires members to grow beards and eat properly made grilled cheese sandwiches.
Simon came home from school happy about school, which is his normal status about school.
School is an amazing place, or at least he thinks that while he’s at home. (While he’s at school, it’s often a different matter and he can get mad at things not happening on schedule or teachers not being there.)
But today, it was happiness.
From the moment he got off the bus, he said school was fun.
I asked what he did at school. “Fun,” he said.
I asked again, emphasis on “what” he did…
“What did you learn about?”
Okay, maybe that’s actually a “where” response, but close enough that I’ll take it.
These feelings about school didn’t fade away. He ran through his usual “script” about going to school and when he goes back to school (tomorrow morning).
But that wasn’t enough today. He kept repeating himself and wanting me to repeat it back to him.
So I came up with a social story on the fly and told it to him.
“In the morning, you wake up, then you get dressed, then you eat breakfast, then you get on the bus, and then you get to school.” I held up a finger for each step, numbering them one through five.
He nodded along, so I went for the repetition.
“What do you do first?” [One finger held up]
“Then what?” [Two fingers held up]
“And then?” [Three fingers held up]
“And next?” [Four fingers held up]
“Take the bus.”
“And what’s the last step?” [All five fingers held up]
“Get to school.”
“Do you feel better now?”
“Great, so can you please get out of the bathroom? Because I kind of need some privacy now.”
On Monday, Simon’s high school had an active shooter drill.
On Tuesday, I got a message that Simon didn’t do well during the drill.
On Wednesday morning, I spoke at length with his school case manager who detailed the problems and changes they’d already started to implement.
On Wednesday afternoon, seventeen students were shot to death at a high school in Florida.
Simon didn’t like the active shooter lockdown drill. He does fine with the tornado drills, but the active shooter one…he couldn’t do it.
He stayed in his seat. He stayed in his seat because it was time for PE, not time to go sit quietly in the corner of a darkened room. He stayed in his seat because he wanted to run around and play basketball in the gym. He stayed in his seat.
He screamed. Loudly. So loudly that one of the vice principals came into the classroom to try to calm him down, but it was too late. He screamed.
He cried. Tears went down his face. He cried.
He stayed in his chair. He could not be quiet.
My mind skipped back to the most depressing show that I had ever seen – the M*A*S*H final episode, “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen.”
In that finale, Hawkeye has broken down completely and is working with a psychiatrist. He recalls a time on a bus when there were soldiers outside, checking to see if there was anyone on the bus, anyone for them to kill. A woman had a chicken on her lap, and it kept clucking. But then it stopped.
I found the dialogue for the scene:
Hawkeye: “There’s something wrong with it. It stopped making noise. It just–just stopped. Sh–She killed it! She killed it!”
Sidney: “She killed the chicken?”
Hawkeye: “Oh my God! Oh my God! I didn’t mean for her to kill it. I did not! I–I just wanted it to be quiet! It was–It was a baby! She–She smothered her own baby!”
My mind jumps back to thoughts of Simon at high school, Simon not being able to be quiet when someone wants to kill people.
Simon’s high school is working with him for the next time there is an active shooter drill. They are changing the appearance of his schedule to make it easier for him to deal with changes. They are making sure that there is some sort of computer that he can take into a corner with a set of headphones so that he can be distracted and still stay hidden. All of that is awesome.
What if it doesn’t work?
What is he stays in his seat?
What if he screams?
What if it’s not a drill?
My imagination runs wild with thoughts I don’t want to have.
Tomorrow is Monday.
Simon goes back to high school.
In fact, you might say I’m…wait for it….waaaaiiiiitttttt fooooorrrrr iiiiiitttttt…speechless!
Except, of course, I’m clearly not. I’m actually full of speech. Bursting with speech!
I’m referring to the issue with the third and fourth episodes in the second season, the ones that deal with parents showing up and wanting aides for their kids. Looking beyond all the major issues (funding, having aides that are full-time outside school, and all the other nonsense that makes for good TV), this particular issue completely stopped me.
Because, and this is the thing, one-on-one aides should not be the goal of every special needs parent.
First – they teach learned helplessness. Having a full-time aide, when they’re not absolutely necessary, means that the individual will have a harder time learning self-reliance and how to adapt to situations. Think about it this way: if you never had the opportunity or urge to do something because someone else would always do it for you, and possibly quicker or better than you could, would you do it? Maybe eventually, right? And what if they also made it clear to you through their actions (or even their words) that you would not be able to do that? That you cannot do it. That you should rely on them.
My son ran into this issue at school. He had been doing fine getting onto the bus after school by himself. He knew the routine, and he’d run through it without any sort of incident. Then his teacher had to start coming out with a new student. He went from capable to reliant on help in just a few days. Instead of getting on the bus by himself, he waited for her to tell him what to do, and he would want help doing it. She had to fade back out to get him to start getting on the bus again by himself, and once she faded out, he was fine doing it without help.
Second – they teach reliance on and a connection to a single person, who is paid to be near them. At a recent training session I attended, we were asked to look at the people who are around ourselves and our loved ones with disabilities. In many cases, those with disabilities are surrounded not by friends and loved ones, but by those who are paid to be near them – often nurses, therapists, aides, and other types of caregivers. Those very people, though, aren’t going to stick around too often or for too long. They do what they do because it’s a job. Yes, they probably care about the people they care for, but it’s still a job. When the money runs out or when something changes in their life, they will probably go on to pursue other options. They care, but it’s not the same kind of care that you find from someone who chooses to care.
Plus, when the caregiver leaves, they might be taking all that knowledge about the person with them. If the caregiver is a single point of contact, and they leave, then the person with a disability has been abandoned. They have been left alone. The one person who was with them is gone. If they had any sort of emotional attachment, it is severed, and it might have been severed quickly and with no regard to any of those feelings.
Third – they teach other people to stay separate or apart from the person being helped by the aide. Instead of the person being able to directly interact with the people around them, instead of them being able to learn how to communicate with others (and teach others to communicate with them), an artificial wall has been erected. In a school setting, students aren’t as likely to approach another student if they have to go through an adult to get to them. In a real-world setting, if a person will disabilities is kept apart from others through that aide, how will the person ever get to know anyone else? If they aren’t allowed to communicate, how will they make friends? How will they develop their own community?
When my son was younger, we thought having a one-on-one aide was the best solution for him. We’d heard so many good things about it, mostly the types of things that appeared on Speechless when it was time for all the parents to ask for an aide. Aides are the best! Aides will give your child everything they need! Aides are what make education successful!
I’m glad that our ARD committee decided against it. It wouldn’t have been a good thing our son. He wouldn’t have benefitted from him. Sure, maybe it would have made it easier for us and for him in the short run, but now he’s 15, and I’m able to look back and know that it would have been a mistake.
Speechless normally does a good job showing JJ avoiding learned helplessness. He makes friends who can lend a hand, like getting him drunk at a party. He tackles emergencies, like when he went camping with his father and had to make it to a far-away ranger station to rescue his father who is stuck in a bathroom. He attends a summer camp and participates in typical teenager hijinks. He’s an average, everyday teen who just happens to be in a wheelchair and need help communicating. Isn’t that the goal?